I am angry, sad, depressed, happy, excited, jealous, bored, and so forth. We often describe ourselves according to our emotional state, or more accurately, the label we give to our emotional state. Which raises the question, which is more influential, the emotion or our labels for it? Have you ever tried to define what emotion is? Let’s try.
How do you distinguish fear from excitement? Both states are recognized by increasing heart rate, breaths, and body temperature. Other physiological changes occur though we are seldom aware of them. Perhaps fear roils the stomach more than excitement, or not. The physical feelings of those emotions aren’t that different, so maybe our interpretation of the physical sensations determines whether we experience them as fear or excitement. In fact, could it be that we label most emotions by the cues, rather than the physical sensations we call an emotion? What do I mean by cues? Contemplate this question: How do you know when it’s time to get angry?
Here’s a hint. Imagine you just bought the automobile of your dreams, and you are driving down the street reveling in the new car smell, sounds and sensations. Suddenly a rock bounces across your hood and you see the kid who threw it running towards you. Imagine how angry you would be. But when the kid reaches you he’s in tears and he’s crying, “please help me, please help me, my mom just cut herself really badly and she’s bleeding to death on the floor, and I didn’t know how else to get your attention other than throwing the rock.” Is it possible that the sensation you had just called anger would suddenly morph into a different sensation, like sympathy or concern? If so, what changed? The rock hit your car, you interpreted the kid’s action a certain way, and you got angry. After he explained, the anger and desire to hurt was replaced by sympathy and the desire to help (I hope).
This vignette demonstrates how context affects emotions. So what is the point? Many people are ruled by their emotions, saying things like “I couldn’t help it, I was angry” to justify an action they regret. But like I said in my previous post, you always have choices. You can reinterpret emotions, and choose not to be ruled by them.
It might help to remember this: sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.